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Mini Guide to Phuket

Sunday, 14 January 2018

I visited Phuket for the first time almost six years ago. It was my first venture to Asia and after a few days in Bangkok, we headed down south to the island to relax. My budget was a bit bigger that time since it was a holiday so we stayed in a really lovely resort up in the mountains and didn't really leave it that often. I guess that's always the way with resorts; five restaurants, a bar, a spa and a swimming pool, was all that we needed. This time around, I’m backpacking which was a whole different experience. Phuket is a very touristy part of Thailand but I enjoyed my time there all the same; it's my first destination of 2018 so to start off this years posts here’s what I’ve been up to this week!

Sleeping & Partying at Slumber Party Hostel:
I stayed at Slumber Party Hostel by Bodega and it was the perfect base for my trip. They are a well known chain around Thailand and I had big expectations after everything I'd heard about them through my travels so far; and I can confirm that they delivered.

 The Phuket hostel is in a great location near the infamous Bangla Road and also the beach. The accommodation part was perfect. It was clean, quite and comfortable and the beds were freshly made every day - I managed to get a good night’s sleep every single night. The best thing about this hostel though, is its atmosphere; if I wanted to be social (and I did) there was always the opportunity to party downstairs. They run a bar crawl three times a week and beer pong every other night which always gets everyone going. Also, like all good party hostels, there is free alcohol at the bar most days and at 6pm like clockwork you can expect a knock on your dorm door from one of the staff with a bottle of vodka.

I stayed for 8 days in total and even then I didn't want to leave. By the end of it, I had made good friends with some of the staff and it just felt like home - definitely a sign of a good hostel!


Touring in a Tuk tuk:
A couple of us from the hostel got together and hired a tuk tuk driver (we went for a pink one obvs) to take us around the southern part of the island for one of the days. We decided what things we wanted to go and see and spent an hour bartering for a reasonable price. I love how hostels bring people together. You can be complete strangers one second and the next you've spent all day having fun together.

The White Buddha:
This was one of our stops with the tuk tuk driver and is one of Phuket’s most famous attractions. Surprisingly, it was free entry to visit. The buddha itself it 45 metres tall and kinda sorta unfinished at the moment - you can give donations to buy the white tiles (White Burmese jade marble apparently) that cover the buddha and you can also buy the little bells that surround it. I loved the atmosphere these gave, the sound of bells in the wind at the top of the island was very serene.

It sits on the top of a hill so as well as going to see the iconic buddha, you get a pretty cool viewpoint as well.
 

Wat Chalong:
I’ll admit it, a lot of people, myself included get a bit templed out after a few weeks in Thailand but I really liked this one - it’s the biggest and probably the most popular temple in all of Phuket, you could tell it was very well looked after. And again, this was free entry which was actually quite surprising because otherwise, I have found Phuket to be the most expensive part of Thailand.  

We bought candles and incense which we lit outside the temple, before taking our shoes off and wandered around inside.
 

Kata Beach:
Phuket is famous for its beaches and whilst Patong beach was walking distance from the hostel, we decided to stop off at Kata beach for lunch after our morning of sight seeing; not before having a little splash around in the sea.

Phuket Bar Crawl:
This is the one I mentioned earlier and I did it again and again. It happens every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and was such a great opportunity to get everyone together, meet people and just have fun.   The price includes a free t-shirt (which honestly is all you usually need to convince me) but you also get food at the hostel before you go out which is a pretty clever idea really. As well as that, and shots at each bar, you get a bucket and that was me done for the evening; I didn’t have to buy any more drinks for the rest of the night!

Also, the staff from the hostel always make sure you get home safe which is super reassuring, especially when you're travelling solo.

Visiting Koh Phi Phi
Phi Phi island is super expensive but definitely a lot of fun - sometime too much fun! I can only handle a couple of days there at a time before I have to retreat back to normality. Saying that, the boys and I managed to get alot of rest during the day because while the beach is the home to some of the craziest parties on the island, it's pretty serene and beautiful during the day. We did one night partying on the beach and one night in a nice resort away from the madness.
After Phi Phi we headed back to Slumber party for a couple more nights of fun in Phuket before leaving for the next destination! 

#MyDutchWinter Highlights With Stena Line

Friday, 5 January 2018

A few days after returning home from Asia, I was off to The Netherlands to explore again with Stena Line! Last time we travelled in the summer on a mini road trip but this year we explored more of The Netherlands in the wintertime and today I wanted to share with you my highlights from the trip! I'm going to try really hard to not make them all food related but I cant promise anything.

Sailing to Holland Onboard Stena Line
Like I said, I've taken a ferry to Holland a few times in the past (both with my family and on press trips) and it's a style of travel that I really enjoy. Firstly, having cruised for most of my childhood with my family meant I now feel really at home traveling on a boat. As my mum always says, it means that your holiday starts as soon as you step on board which is something you can't say about flying to a destination. Like last time, we got a rail and sail ticket straight from London to the boat where we boarded, dropped off our bags and headed to dinner; which we finished off with an apple crumble and a glass of fizz - now that's my kind of journey. 
 Departure was just as easy and is literally, just a matter of walking off of the boat, getting our passports checked and getting into a taxi to the hotel.

Ferris Wheel in The Hague
The Hague was our first stop and after a day exploring the city we headed to Scheveningen (the seaside!) just in time for sunset. The pier itself is all glassed in so even though it was cold, it was still a lovely place to be. At the end of the pier, was a ferris wheel! Again, this would have been really lovely had the weather been in our favour but even though it wasn't, it's still made it to my list of highlights because a ferris wheel in stormy winds was just quite the experience! All wrapped up warm and squashed into a pod; we had a beautiful red and orange sunset, the views back over The Hague and a good laugh in between squeals!


Seeing The Girl With The Pearl Earring
During our walking tour that day, we went to a couple of art museums. I'm not usually a big fan of museums but Mauritshuis in The Hague, which is currently home to the famous painting was more like a big manor house than a museum! I was super excited to be able to go and see such a famous painting in real life. Its much smaller than I had expected!

Canal Ride Through Utrecht
The next morning we were off to Utretch and I really did enjoy walking through the quaint streets. It's such a picturesque place during the day but a canal ride as it started to get dark was definitely my highlight of our time in the town. When it's cold, and it was, it is a wonderfully warm, comfortable and relaxing way to see the place. I loved looking up at the brick bridges, the foodie stores (we picked up alot of cheese between us during our time there) and the bikes that lined the railings watching as daylight turned to fairy lights.

Dutch appletart

I've always been a fan of a cake break but whilst I was in Holland, I was particularly excited for our little stops in between activities because every cafe that we stopped in was serving Hollandse Appeltaart! Apple seemed to be a bit of a running theme right?! Similar to an apple pie but much simpler - a crumbly, almost short crust tart with a simple apple, sugar and a cinnamon filling which was always served cold. I always had mine with a cup of mint tea so I could pretend a cake break was actually a healthy thing to do.


Euromast
Our last stop was Rotterdam and heading to the top of the Euromast was a great way to see the city especially whilst it was blanketed in snow. It was just a short water taxi ride from our amazing hotel - the SS Rotterdam where we stayed the night before so we were there within minutes of leaving the warmth of the lobby. 


Dinner On The SS Rotterdam
Talking of which: This one earned it's spot on this list for two reasons. Firstly, the whole boat experience was pretty cool and a very unique thing to do in the city. We stayed the night on board in cabins which were just the same as any cruise ship I've been on in the past. And the second reason? Dinner here was a highlight for me was because it was the first time I'd eaten a three course meal by myself which is kinda surprising considering I've just been one a three month trip around SEA solo.

Let me explain how that came to be on a group press trip. I seem to had been particularly struggling with the snow in the Netherlands so whilst the rest of the group headed out to dinner, Sophie the lovely PR with us said I could chill out and eat on board if I preferred; which I definitely did. I headed up to the lido where the staff sat me down on a lovely table looking out over Rotterdam which was all lit up. A good WiFi connection and a lovely warm atmosphere meant I had no problems enjoying a meal for one. Plus there was a chocolate sphere on the menu so I had to stay for dessert.


Escape Rooms

It was pretty snowy again on our last day so we were all pleased to have a fun activity to do indoors; plus it was the first time I'd ever done an escape room too. We completely failed - the guy ended up giving us 15 minutes extra and then telling us the last answer because we just couldn't work it out but I still had an awesome afternoon!

Eating Oliebollen
Of course alot of my highlights involve food but this time it's a local Dutch treat that I wanted to share with you. Oliebollen are huge balls of dough that have been cooked in oil hence the name. They are rolled in icing sugar and traditionally eaten on new years eve. We saw them all over Rotterdam - although it was sort of that time of year; anyway we picked a them up at a little stall on the street and ate them as the snow was falling around us.

The aim of the game is to get the icing sugar everywhere and I seemed to do a better job of it than anyone else as the rest of the group were in fits of giggles with what they described to me as an icing sugar beard; I didn't care though. I was so cold and food takes me to a happy place so I just focused on the fluffy dough in question. 
The snow was really starting to fall heavily by then so we spent our last few hours in Rotterdam in a cosy little pub eating meatballs and drinking mulled wine before heading back to the hook of Holland to get on the ferry back to London!

Stena Line offers twice-daily, seven hour return crossings between Harwich and the Hook of Holland. Return fares start from £148 for two adults and a car. Return fares for a family of four start from £178. www.stenaline.co.uk/ferry-to-holland.

Rail and Sail option starts from £55 one way, ferry travel and train. Stena Line’s Dutchflyer rail-and-sail service allows customers to take any Greater Anglia service to Harwich, and then on to any Dutch city of their choice.

Where we stayed: 
ROTTERDAM: The SS Rotterdam 
UTRETCH: Star Lodge Hotel
THE HAGUE: The Hague Carlton Ambassador Hotel

Thanks to Stena Line, The Visit The Hague, UTRETCH Marketing and Rotterdam Partners for hosting me on this trip!

My 2017 Travel Roundup

Friday, 15 December 2017

I don't really make new years resolutions but at the end of last year, I was adamant that 2017 was the year I was going to start traveling more. I never could have imagined, however, just how much I would achieve in this past year. I have been on some of the most incredible adventures from squeezing trips abroad into my weekends when I had a job to get back to on Monday morning, visiting some dream destination that I never thought I'd actually see and a monster three month trip at the end of the year which basically changed my life.

Apart from getting to see the world, this years travels have done so much for me as a person you wouldn't believe! I was scarred to do anything at the start of the year and by the end of it, I was gallivanting around South East Asia all alone and loving every single second of it. This year,  I managed 12 trips in all, 29 flights, 6 all day bus journeys and only two minor meltdowns along the way! and here they all are:

Gdansk | POLAND | More: here & here
My first trip of the year, although it was only overnight, was a pretty big deal for me. When it actually came around, I didn't really want to go; it was -19 degrees at night, I'd never stayed in a hostel before and I was going with a complete stranger who I'd met on Facebook but I knew I was going to have to push myself if I was going to do this travel thing. Turns out it wasn't so bad. It was pretty cold, yep but I really enjoyed seeing a new country and spending the weekend seeing what Gdansk had to offer!
Hamburg | GERMANY | More: here & here
The boys invited me along on the first lads holiday of 2017 which was alot of fun! We did a couple of big nights out at the Reeperbahn and once I had managed to get them up and out of bed, we got to see a few of the local attractions as well.
Marrakech & Essaouira | MOROCCO | More: here, here, here & here
 Being invited on this trip with Much Morocco was a bit of a pinch me moment; I had always wanted to visit Morocco, Marrakech especially! As well as wandering around the souks, Jemaa El Fna Square and doing a cooking class, I also got to see some real life tree goats whilst we were driving to Essaouira which was another life goal ticked off of my list! 
Porto | PORTUGAL  | More: here
Selena & I got on so well the first time that we decided to take one more trip before she had to go home to Canada. This time we decided on somewhere warm: Porto. All I want to mention from this trip is the pretty blue tiles that decorated buildings around the city and Portuguese tarts. So many Portuguese tarts.
Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hanoi & Halong Bay | VIETNAM | More: herehere & here
Going to Vietnam was a huge turning point for my style of travel. It was my first budget holiday but you know what, I really enjoyed staying in hostels and eating street food - would you believe I'd been to Asia twice before that and never eaten any street food?! I love south east Asia but I would say Vietnam is one of my absolute favourite countries there. Two weeks just wasn't enough.
Schladming | AUSTRIA | More: here
  Another summertime trip to Austria although this time there was much less snow and much more kaiserschmarrn - yum. I did alot of things that scared me that week; zip lining, biking up a mountain and another cable car but I left Austria feeling rather pleased with myself having given them all a go!
Santander | SPAIN | More: here
I had never heard of the Camino before this trip but since then, I have seen it being mentioned here there and everywhere! Whilst I didn't walk the whole thing, I really enjoyed seeing a different side to Spain. As usual, the food was a huge highlight of this trip for me; the hearty mountain stews were perfect for refueling along the way.
Catalonia | SPAIN | More: here
This month was literally crazy. I had three back to back press trips and I had just found out that I was being made redundant as well. What better way to spend my last working month than using up my leftover holiday in sunny Spain?!
Menorca | SPAIN | More: here
This was a really lovely week that felt much more like a holiday with friends than it did a press trip. We were in the country for a blogging conference but spent the rest of the week exploring what Menorca has to offer and taking a day or two to completely chill out around the pool.
Disneyland Paris | FRANCE
Andrew and I hadn't been back to Disney for a few years and I had just lost my job so lets just say this was the best birthday present ever! We love Disney so much; just how happy and carefree it makes us both feel; plus it was great to spend some time together before I left for my big trip.
Kuala Lumpur, Yogyakarta,  Canggu, Bangkok, Perhinthian Islands, Penang, Langkawi, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Pai, Phi Phi & Singapore 
MALAYSIA | THAILAND | INDONESIA | SINGAPORE | More: here & here
 This trip was more than I could ever have imagined; leaving the UK on my own was nerve wracking to say the least but it turned out to be the most amazing adventure. I had spent months planning and had it worked out literally day by day but as soon as I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the whole thing went out the window. I wanted to hit up 8 different countries but I only managed three (and a half - the volcano scared me away from Bali). I was only meant to spend 4 days in total in Malaysia but I ended up staying for two months, one of which was spent just in Kuala Lumpur; I would have stayed even longer if I hadn't booked return flights! Hardly anyone had mentioned it on their itineraries when I was reading blogs beforehand but it was the cheapest place to fly into and within days, I very unexpectedly fell in love with the place.
 Although I haven't written much about it yet, I have a couple of posts in the pipeline which I am super excited to share with you all over the next few months!

 The Hague, Utrecht & Rotterdam | THE NETHERLANDS
Somehow I managed to squeeze in one more trip abroad this year and left for The Netherlands two days after I got home from Asia. After a 15 hour flight home, I was pretty pleased that we were getting a ferry over rather than another flight and as usual, Stena Line were on point with their food, service and comfy cabin rooms! This five day trip with the girls was a little colder than I was used to but certainly lots of fun and very tasty which seems to have been a running theme throughout the year!
What will 2018 bring?
Whilst I did some amazing trips and also some pretty lovely stay-cations in London as well, alot of them were on a very tight budget; I only spent £74 all in on my weekend in Poland! I've come to love budget travelling but if I were to win the lottery tomorrow, there is one place that I would love to splash out on and that is the Maldives - somewhere I wouldn't even attempt on a budget! I'd also love to visit Japan, & India next year which are maybe a little more attainable on my current budget! 

Who knows what 2018 will bring. I certainly didn't think I'd have the guts to go solo backpacking at the beginning of the year and I also didn't think I'd be finishing it as a single woman for the first time in my adult life so these days I'm all about just seeing where it takes me! Hopefully to somewhere far away and exotic!
 *In collaboration with Lottoland

Theres more to Catalonia than just Barcelona.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Well known for its consistent heat, the man made beach and of course Las ramblas, you can see why Barcelona is a very popular destination, but there is also lots to see outside of the city center. If the hustle and bustle of this busy city can get a bit much, especially when your in holiday mode, I've put together a list of things to see and do that are all within an hour of the madness so you could easily pop out for the afternoon or even book in an overnight stay if you fancied.

Visit Monstraat
Whilst mountains aren't usually something I would recommend for fun, in fact I really thought I wasn't a fan of any mountain activity (apart from eating), I really enjoyed my day in Monstarrat. Firstly, it was the first time I've been up to the top of a mountain and it was hot so that gave the whole afternoon a whole other edge and secondly, the train ride up there was an experience in itself, I felt like I was on a real life thunder mountain in regards to the mountains and the views (not the crazy rode part) At the top, we took a walk around in the sunshine, watched a school boy choir sing in the huge monastery, had a local lunch and then got the train back to the station. 
Segway ride in Sitges
Segway tours are such a fun thing to do. With the sun out, our evening tour was still pretty warm and a great alternative way to see a place. Don't worry if you've never done it before, I hadn't but our guide was great and went through it individually with each of us before we set off; plus our route was super simple although there was some time to play sound once we got to the park. It's really easy, although riding a segway can actually get pretty exhausting too so an hour was the perfect amount of time.

P.S. I was told that a building site on the seafront was the beginning of ME Barcelona  so soon that'll be another reason to visit Sitges.

Beach club in Vilanova
Vilanova is a very quiet seaside town but as you venture out along the harbor, once you pass all of the yachts, you'll find La Daurada beach club at the end. This is where we had our welcome party and we were all told to wear white in traditional beach club fashion. Starting upstairs, we grabbed a glass of cava and drank it on the balcony before finding the cocktail bar and grabbing a seat downstairs on the beach front. There we watched the sunset which was really quite impressive. The sky changed from clear blue through an incredible range of oranges and reds whilst the live band played.


  • Drink wine in Vilafranca

If you're a wine lover, then this is the one for you. Vilafranca is the wine capital of Catalonia and we did lots of wine related activities during our day there. Firstly, there is the Vinseum where you can learn about wine culture if that's your kind of thing and of course it ends with a glass of wine. We also went to the most beautiful vineyard for lunch (the restaurant there was called Mas Rabell) where we were served 5 courses each paired with a wine. The food felt like there was a lot of thought put into it; each dish was very tasty and well presented too. Lastly, we went up to the bell tower of Santa Maria church whee you can see sweeping views all around. You have to book in your visit but you can opt for the sunset and with a glass of wine visit for just €5. Cheers!

See a human tower in Terressa
Human towers (or castellers) are a traditional spectacle in Catalonia and upon seeing my first one I can confirm they are very impressive. Time you're visit right and you'll be able to catch a public display that happens over most holiday and festivals but if not, like us you can go and watch the local team practice. Minyons de Terrassa, who we went to see were the first team in Spain to build a tower 10 people high. Pretty impressive!
Human towers are tradition in Spain & last night we watched the @visitaterrassa team train 😮 #BCNmuchmore #costabarcelonaweek @Spain_inUK pic.twitter.com/WuWqs7nz9Y
*Thanks to Costa Barcelona Week for hosting me

SUKHAVATI AYURVEDIC RETREAT & SPA, Bali

Monday, 23 October 2017

I arrived in Bali a little bit broken. Twelve days of non-stop partying as well as making some major life decisions had taken its toll on my body and I was starting to get ill. I only got to bed an hour before my flight the night before; going to bed at 6am was a terrible idea, hindsight eh? so apart from waking up for some instant noodles, I slept the whole way to Bali and woke up tired and disorientated in a new country. Basically, I was in a bit of a state and I needed to sort myself out. Luckily, I was heading to Sukhavati retreat for the next three days and they did just that for me.
I didn’t really think too much about going to a retreat on my own when I booked it in but after the week I had had, it was the perfect place to reflect on what had happened and being there alone gave me the time to just think and really understand what being on my own felt like.

Being picked up from the airport was part of the package and after a very comfortable hours drive, we had arrived in paradise. My time at Sukhavati started with a facial and foot massage in my villa; which was pretty amazing by the way. I've never had treatments in my own space before but it really added another level to the luxury of it; laying on my own bed with the sound of the pool and birds outside, not to mention it was probably the best foot massage I think I have ever had.

The villa was very similar to the one I stayed at in Ubud last year although it was much bigger and this time I had the whole thing to myself. It had a private pool, a huge outdoor sofa area at the front and an incredible outdoor bathroom out the back so I lived in my bikini for three days and didn’t leave unless I really had to (aka going to the spa).

Although there was the option to have dinner brought to the villa, I decided to use meal times as another opportunity to leave the room. There were only a few of us staying at the resort which meant we could all go hours or even days at a time without seeing another else so each night we all sat together and ate at one table which I thought was really lovely - we all got to know each other pretty well over the few days.

It was here, talking to everyone on the first evening that I realised that this retreat wasn’t just about staying somewhere nice and being pampered; people actually came here to get better. A few of the guests were on some kind of starvation day which the doctor had prescribed for them and they were telling us how much the felt better for it. Those of us eating had delicious vegetarian meals each time. This one, beetroot curry, a dahl, quinoa, pumpkin and spinach which was full of goodness and was one of my favourites of my stay. It was just the kind of food I was craving after eating Nandos almost every single day for two weeks back in Kuala Lumpur.
Mornings at the retreat started with early yoga on the terrace, followed by breakfast; which I ate in the villa both times. It was so amazing just getting out of bed, opening the big doors of the villa and sitting down to eat by my private pool. 

After breakfast on my first day, it was my turn to meet with the doctor. I was a little bit worried he was going to put me on a food cleanse but luckily he didn’t. He did however do something which completely amazed me. He asked to feel my pulse and held down on my write for a few minutes. From that he told me that I had disrupted menstruation, which he was right about; he also said there is a stiffness in my back and that I have problems with my digestion. Three things are that really affect my everyday life; I just sat there in shock. He must be a wizard.
A few hours later, I was booked in to have three Ayurvedic treatments that he had prescribed for me; Abhyanga, Body stamping & Shirodhara and they were completely out of this world. Abhyanga is an oil massage but it was different for two reasons, firstly, I was completely covered in oil which the Dr said was important for penetrate the skin and help flush out toxins but also, this massage was done by two people. A couple of times, I caught myself thinking how on earth is she doing that before I realised there were actually four hands rather than two. The next treatment was described to me as body stamping and involved the two therapists using bags of compressed herbs to push more hot oil into my joints.

The last treatment, Shirodhara was just other worldly. I had read about it online and didn’t really understand the benefits of running hot oil over the forehead but once I had experienced it I changed my mind. I laid there for 15 minutes drifting in and out of consciousness; it was a little bit like having an out of body experience. I remembered having conversations with people back in Kuala Lumpar as if it was really happening. It was really strange but totally amazing and I felt so relaxed afterwards - I'd definitely recommend it if you get the chance. 

Back at the villa, I had a couple of hours to relax before dinner and just to process my day. Even after just a few hours here, I was totally relaxed and feeling very spiritual, ready to take on the world again.

Check out their website at Sukhavati retreat

*Thanks to Sukhuvati for hosting me. All comments are 100% my own
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